Simon Reynolds, Retromania and the Atemporality of Contemporary 'Pop'
Discipline 2 (2012), 156-164
9 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2020
Date Written: December 9, 2011
One book dominated music criticism in 2011. A virtuoso work of both musical and cultural history, a strangely personal memoir of a life dedicated to pop and its more obscure fringes, an absorbing and incisive polemic against certain forms of musicological nostalgia, retro and pastiche, a sometimes deterministic and curmudgeonly look at the tectonic changes supposedly wrought by the ‘digital revolution’ on both musical consumption and practice: Simon Reynolds’s "Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own Past" was all of these things and more.
This review begins by positioning the book relative to Reynolds' previous work, a close reading of which, it is argued, reveals a specifically 'modernist' vision of pop and the function of music to which Reynolds has remained committed for virtually the entire duration of his career. The arguments in the book itself are then submitted to a critical analysis, with particular attention paid to Reynolds' claims about technology and recent developments in the musical underground. Finally, it is suggested that Reynolds' book is basically persuasive, and that it is best understood as a provocation. Ultimately, what Retromania does is to force us — musicians, critics, listeners — to think more carefully about what is at stake in retro, to think twice before we endorse or applaud it, to remember that sometimes, in some contexts, retro is simply not good enough, that we can and sometimes should do better.
Keywords: Simon Reynolds, Retromania, Pop, Music, Retro, Modernism
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